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Intimate Histories

La Victima
Bucking the Border: Teatro Visíon's "La Victima" explores the reality--not the ideology--of the immigrant experience.

Teatro Visión puts a human face on historical facts and figures

By Anne Gelhaus

IT SAYS something about the power of a production when those of us who don't fully understand the language in which it's written can still be moved by it. Such is the case with La Victima, currently being staged by Teatro Visión.

The play is performed almost entirely in Spanish, but that shouldn't deter folks who, like this reviewer, have just a passing familiarity with the language. The script, written collaboratively in 1976 by members of Santa Barbara's Teatro de la Esperanza, paints a poignant portrait of a Mexican immigrant family, and the Teatro Visión cast makes the story resonate.

By focusing on one family, La Victima effectively shows how California's ever-changing immigration policy has shaped Mexican-American society. Each scene in the play is bracketed by a narrative to give an overall sense of the policy's history, allowing the audience to see how each fluctuation in the law has had a deep impact on immigrants' lives.

This combination of historical overview and personal insight is used to great advantage in developing the character of Sammy Mendoza (Pedro Antonio Cuevas). Before Sammy is accidentally separated from his parents, who are being deported from L.A., we are told that in 1932, Herbert Hoover made a pledge to rid the country of Mexicans, resulting in thousands of such fractured families. Before Sammy goes off to serve in the Korean War, we're told that although Mexican Americans comprised about 5 percent of the U.S. population in the WWII years, they made up about 20 percent of the armed forces during that war.

Cuevas gives a low-key but admirable performance as Sammy, who tries to bury his immigrant past through a career as an INS border guard. While he tries to convince himself that he's assimilated and that he's just doing his job by sending illegals back across la frontera, Sammy's self-doubt and self-loathing are always simmering just below the surface.

Rosa María Escalante is also deftly understated as Amparo Villa, Sammy's long-estranged mother. Amparo's main concern is keeping her family together, which leads her to re-enter California illegally to be with her other two children, who are legal citizens. Even in Amparo's most emotionally broken moments, Escalante plays her character with an impressive inner strength.

While La Victima deals with some heavy subjects, the play contains enough comedy and genuine pathos to avoid a soapbox stance, and even when the actors are quoting statistics, director Elisa Marina Gonzalez makes sure they never sound like they're preaching. The production has a heartfelt quality to it that would come through in any language.

La Victima plays Thursday­Saturday at 8pm through Sept. 21 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second Street, San Jose. Tickets are $8-$12 (special "pay what you can" performance Sept. 15, at 2pm). (408/947-8227)

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From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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